Kings’ Garrett Temple and George Hill adopt Sacramento high schools ‘The education gap in this country is something that is not talked about anymore because there are so many other problems’

SACRAMENTO, California – What do you think about the Colin Kaepernick national anthem protest? How do you handle losing? How do you deal with adversity off the court?

Those were a few of the questions Sacramento Kings forward Garrett Temple fielded during his first day as a student-athlete mentor at Sacramento Charter High School.

“At first, they started asking about basketball,” Temple said before the Kings lost to the Toronto Raptors 102-87 on Sunday. “But then they started asking great questions, life questions. It was a good start. I want everyone to know this is not a one-time thing. This is something I want to continue to grow and I plan on building a relationship with that school and those athletes.”

Temple, who is African-American, said he began thinking about adopting a school during the offseason because of the race issues in America. He ultimately decided that he wanted to become a mentor to student-athletes as well as offer financial assistance to a local high school that primarily included underprivileged kids of color. Sacramento Charter High fit Temple’s criteria.

Sacramento Charter High is a predominantly black school that also includes Latino and mixed-race students. It is in Sacramento’s challenged Oak Park neighborhood, and the school’s alumni includes former NBA star and former Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson. Temple credited Galen Duncan, vice president of the Kings Academy and Professional Development, for doing research that identified Sacramento Charter High as a solid choice. Temple also plans to donate money to the school for computers, which he expects the Kings to match.

“Sacramento High felt like a place that could really use some help. That is why I chose it,” Temple said.

Temple’s town hall meeting at Sacramento Charter High on Dec. 6 was the first of several he plans to have with students playing basketball and other winter sports. He plans to attend a boys basketball tournament at the school to show his support and perhaps even talk to some teams individually.

During the first meeting with the Sacramento Charter High kids, Temple mostly answered questions about life off the court. He was impressed that he received strong attendance of about 100 enthusiastic student-athletes.

“With Colin kneeling and other things going on bringing awareness to police brutality of that nature, I thought about things I can do to actually help,” Temple said. “The education gap in this country is something that is not talked about anymore because there are so many other problems. I read a statistic that said we may be more segregated in schools now than we were in 1954 because of the private schools. All the white kids are going to private schools while the black kids are going to public schools that are very underserved.

“Education is important to me and my family. I wanted to try to help [make a] change.”

Temple said Kings veteran point guard George Hill also decided to choose a local school to mentor after he heard what Temple planned to do for Sacramento Charter High. Temple wasn’t surprised that Hill yearned to get involved, because of his previous charity work.

George Hill (No. 3) of the Sacramento Kings.

Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

“George is basically a humanitarian,” Temple said. “Every game there is a veteran [military] crew that he talks to and takes a picture with. He went to Haiti right after the earthquake. He is just a great guy.”

Hill’s reasons for participation were similar to Temple’s.

“I have always been big on the community stuff, especially as crazy as the world is today,” Hill said. “More guys of our stature and more guys that are successful need to really try to give back and take some of these young men and women right underneath our wings and just guide them a little bit.”

Hill chose Sacramento’s Encina Preparatory High and is scheduled to meet with their student-athletes Monday in the first of what he hopes to be a monthly meeting this season.

Hill said it was important for him to be in a school environment that had black and Latino students because “most of those schools are looked over.” Hill’s fiancée, Samantha Garcia, is Latina, and he is African-American. Racially diverse Encina meets Hill’s criteria as it is 37 percent Latino, 29 percent black, 21 percent white and 6 percent Asian, according School-Ratings. Moreover, 93 percent of Encina’s students are eligible for free lunch.

Hill plans to talk to the students about his challenges growing up in a tough neighborhood in Indianapolis, leadership and working hard to meet their dreams and goals.

“I’m more about being a better person than a better athlete,” Hill said. “I’m going to touch base on helping others. Not judging anyone over the cover of their book. Get to know people, respect others, respect your classmates, your teachers and your peers. Teach the fundamentals and get the love back in the world, because that is something that we are missing.”

Hill and Temple also could offer kids motivation with their far-from-easy roads to the NBA.

Hill starred in college at little-known Division I mid-major Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) , which has made the NCAA tournament just once in school history. Despite scholarship offers from Temple and Indiana, he chose IUPUI to stay close to home with his ailing great-grandfather, Gilbert Edison, who died before getting a chance to see him play. The 10th-year NBA veteran was drafted 26th overall in the first round of the 2008 NBA draft by the San Antonio Spurs.

“Anything is possible if you put your mind to it,” Hill said. “Believe. Hard work pays off. I wasn’t one of the nation’s top players coming out of high school. Everything we had to do had to be earned. It wasn’t given to us. With some of this new generation, people give them so much that when they have to go on their own, they are misguided. They don’t know how to work for it.

“I’m trying to touch a different audience saying, ‘You have to work for what you get. Don’t expect nothing. Have fun doing it.’ But at the same time, you being a better person on and off your sports life is the biggest thing that we want them to contribute to.”

Temple grew up in a stable home in the suburbs of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, led by his father, Collis, the first African-American to play basketball at Louisiana State University. Garett Temple, however, faced adversity when he went undrafted out of LSU in 2009 while his former teammates Brandon Bass, Glen Davis and Tyrus Thomas were all selected in the first round. Eight years later, Temple is the only one of the four former Tigers still in the NBA.

Temple’s well-traveled basketball career has included four stops in the NBA’s G League, a season playing for Associazione Sportiva Junior Pallacanestro Casale Monferrato in Italy and time with the Kings, Houston Rockets, Milwaukee Bucks, Charlotte Bobcats and Washington Wizards. The National Basketball Players Association vice president is in the second year of a three-year deal with the Kings.

“I credit a lot of [my success] to my faith in Christ and my ability to withstand things,” Garrett said. “There have been times where I’ve been cut. Things have happened when there has been really no explanation for them. I just trust in the Lord and everything happens for a reason.”

The Kings’ roster includes nine players with two or fewer years of experience in the NBA, including standout rookie point guard De’Aaron Fox. Sacramento also has veterans in Temple, Hill, Vince Carter and Zach Randolph, who have made it a point to mentor their younger teammates.

Kings rookie guard Frank Mason and injured rookie forward Harry Giles shadowed Temple at his first town hall meeting at Sacramento Charter High. Mason and Giles served the student-athletes a dinner that included chicken, jambalaya and greens. They also sat with the student-athletes as Temple addressed them, engaged with them on social media and took pictures. Temple hopes that Mason and Giles can do something similar for a school in the future. Kings rookies Bogdan Bogdanovic and Justin Jackson are expected to be on hand when Hill makes his first appearance on Monday.

“I was kind of looking at the bigger picture,” Mason said. “Garrett did a great job speaking about the future and the past, being a role model to those kids and telling them what he’s been through. With what we’ve been through at a young age, we just want to help them to not make those mistakes, take advantage of opportunities and work hard every day.”

Said Temple: “Mentoring [teammates] isn’t just on the court. It’s showing them off the court how to impact people.”

Temple’s and Hill’s meetings with the Sacramento high school student-athletes could offer life-changing inspiration. Temple isn’t underestimating the impact it can have on him, too.

“I probably will get more from it than the kids,” Temple said. “It continues to keep you grounded. It humbles you. It reminds you that at one point you were in the same shoes as these kids and had a dream of playing professional basketball. To get here, you need to understand that it’s a blessing and you’re very fortunate.

“But other people don’t have this chance. You have to pour in to the kids that won’t be [in professional sports] that athletics isn’t the only way to make it out.”

Baltimore Raven Ronnie Stanley on being half-Tongan, crushing on Rihanna — and Krispy Kreme The starting left tackle also loves to win arguments with his quarterback, Joe Flacco

The day after the Baltimore Ravens’ crucial Monday Night Football win over the Houston Texans, Ronnie Stanley is still celebrating. For Baltimore’s starting left tackle, the victory and following off day calls for a snack.

“I got some Krispy Kreme,” says Stanley via mobile, and fresh out of line. “I played well, so I thought I deserved some doughnuts.” What did he order? “A little assorted half-dozen. Probably won’t eat them all, but just a few to pick from. Chocolate and original glazed.”

The 6-foot-6, 320-pounder needed some fuel after grinding through the matchup against the Texans, in which he suffered an apparent knee injury that he feared could be a torn ACL. Yet Stanley checked out fine with trainers on the sideline before returning to the field to do his job: protect quarterback Joe Flacco. His prowess is the reason the Ravens selected Stanley with the sixth overall pick in 2016. At Notre Dame, he was a consensus 2015 All-American. When the 23-year-old isn’t guarding Flacco’s blind side, he’s trying to prove a point to his quarterback, embracing his half-Tongan/half-African-American heritage or crushing on @badgalriri — Rihanna. Maybe one day she’ll notice him on the field.

What’s the most painful injury you’ve sustained in your life?

You know those souped-up golf carts that are meant for outdoors and hunting? I was in an accident on one of those and ended up breaking my arm and my right ankle. I could’ve died. That was the most painful experience I’ve had in my life. That was freshman year in high school.

What’s one thing you always do before a big game?

One thing I’m always doing is making sure I’ve done everything I can. I’ve warmed up. I’ve gotten as much direction as I can. I kind of overprepare.

What’s the most unique thing about your quarterback, Joe Flacco, that not many people know?

He’s a hilarious, superoutspoken guy with a ton of opinions … nothing really weird, but if there’s something that could be a gray area, or you’re going back and forth, he’ll always have an opinion. That’s the same with me, so we’ll always be trying to be the right person in the conversation. We both love trying to prove the other wrong.

What’s your most vivid memory from the day you got drafted?

Walking out on the stage, seeing all those people and holding up that jersey for the first time in front of the crowd. Just it all settling in. Everything you’d dreamed of since you were a kid, and it finally happening in one moment.

What was your first major purchase after being drafted?

I didn’t even purchase it, I’m leasing it, but I guess you could say my car. It’s a BMW. It was originally white, but I got it wrapped in this dark matte gray.

If not for the NFL, what career path would you be on right now?

Probably something entrepreneurial, having to do with a technology startup, along the lines of innovation.

In November, did you bet with any of your Ravens teammates that Notre Dame would beat Miami?

I didn’t bet anyone at first, but I was having a good feeling about it the day of the game. Our D-tackle Brandon Williams, an hour and a half before the game, was trying to set something up with me. We ended up betting, and I ended up losing.

“I always get some type of tweet, or some message, from not just Tongan fans but Polynesian fans in general.”

If you could meet any athlete, dead or alive, who would it be?

I’d want it to be someone I could gain some wisdom from, not just someone who was good at their sport. … I’d probably say Muhammad Ali, back in his day. I met him when I was a kid, actually. He was in Las Vegas because his grandson, who’s a lot younger than I am, played at my high school. I never got to talk to Muhammad like that because he was a lot older, so to be able to talk him when he was younger, and be able to have a full conversation … he had a lot of insight.

If you could take one celebrity on a date, who would it be and why?

Oh, gosh … I’d go with Rihanna. … She does her own thing … and is supersuccessful.

What’s your favorite platform for social media, and why?

Twitter, for sure, because the content is hilarious. You can’t find funny s— like that on any other social media.

How did you come up with the Instagram handle @megatronnie?

When I made my IG, I was sitting there thinking, ‘OK, I want something to go with my name.’ So I said, ‘What ends with ‘-ron’?’ so that I could finish it off with Ronnie. I was just making up all these names in my head, and I came up with ‘Megatronnie.’

Who’s the most famous person following you on IG/snap/Twitter?

Jerome Boateng is pretty famous, I guess. He follows me. We’re actually pretty good friends.

What’s one thing about yourself that others might consider embarrassing?

Just the way I act in general … the things I say.

What’s one place in the world you’ve never been that you’re dying to visit?

Dubai.

When in your life did you realize you’re half-Tongan, and what does your Tongan heritage mean to you?

I knew I was half-Tongan when I was pretty young. My parents did a really good job of introducing me, my little brother and my little sister to the culture. We went to a lot of family reunions with our Tongan side of the family. To be around them a lot as kids definitely normalized the heritage for us.

Do you get a lot of love from Tongan NFL fans?

For sure. I always get some type of tweet, or some message, from not just Tongan fans but Polynesian fans in general. It’s such a small group of people compared to other races in America. To see someone of that ethnicity playing football … they all support us because there’s only a handful of us.

You have a huge tattoo inspired by your Tongan heritage — what made you get it?

I always thought tribal tattoos were amazing. Just the detail, the pattern, the art, the symmetry. What I got was actually done by Haloti Ngata’s little brother. … In the middle, I have a big dove that’s on my grandma’s tombstone. I also have my mom’s name written in Tongan within the design. The rest of it is all traditional Tongan freehand. … It took like 13 hours, and I did it in one session.

Where does your courage come from?

My parents always telling me to stand up for myself and to do what I know is right. They were always reaffirming, ‘You’re no less than anyone else … so don’t let people walk over you.’ That definitely made me a lot more courageous being out in the world by myself.

What will you always be the champion of?

The people.

Meet motivator, author and life/relationship coach Stephan Labossiere ‘Women were digesting the information and wanted more of it’

Life coaches and motivational speakers have been around for centuries, inspiring by their work, expounding pearls of wisdom to the masses and helping heal communities. These coaches are similar to an athletic coach pushing his or her players in the last crucial moments of a championship game. In The Undefeated’s new The Motivational Speaker series, stories will spotlight several individuals who uplift others as either authors, trainers, social media vocalists or, most importantly, listeners.

A vast majority of us have been there.

The stunning reality of a failed relationship can cause us to become hurt and heartbroken, calloused and damaged. It’s something relationship and dating coach Stephan Labossiere has witnessed time and time again with clients, direct responses from fans and his own personal experiences. Instead of feeling helpless, Labossiere was determined to make a difference. In a career-changing decision, Labossiere became a popular relationship expert, amassing over 2 million followers across such social media platforms as @StephanSpeaks.

“One reason, of course, is God,” Labossiere said. “It’s just what God led me to do, and I never in a million years thought I would be doing this.”

Labossiere definitely was not into writing and hated it in high school and college. But he understood how real the struggle was for people hurting and how much toxic relationships affect society. In his words, “I’m just a guy trying to do what God wants me to do. My main message is: You need to heal. Everybody needs healing. It doesn’t matter what you’re dealing with, if you don’t let go of the past and negative energy, then you’re only going to hold yourself back.”

An author with an analytical mind …

Originally from Queens, New York, Labossiere was uprooted to Miami as the lone boy (also a twin) in a house with three sisters.

“My family is filled with women, so I’ve been around women all the time growing up,” the current Atlanta resident said.

Being surrounded by women during childhood proved to be advantageous, as most of Labossiere’s following is composed of women from across the world. Except for two books from his collection — How to Get a Woman to Have Sex with You If You’re a Husband (2011) and He Who Finds a Wife: A Man’s Guide to Finding the Woman & Love He Desires (2015) — Labossiere’s books are mostly consumed by a female audience.

“People assume, but I didn’t make my audience women,” Labossiere said. “It just worked out that way because that’s who kept coming back. Women were digesting the information and wanted more of it.”

As Labossiere’s career gained traction, the relationship coach decided to expand his reach by writing a book for single women. At the time, it would be called That’s the Problem with Single Women. Yet Labossiere, a techie with a degree in management information systems, had a difficult time trying to write about those perceived “problems.” Frustrated and in financial despair, he prayed and asked God for guidance. “What do you want me to do?” Upon receiving direction as to how his book should actually flow, Labossiere needed a refresher on the Book of Ruth, Boaz’s wife in the Bible, and finished writing God Where Is My Boaz? in two months. The 2013 publication is Labossiere’s most successful book.

“A lot of dating books are either very mainstream, very secular or so preachy that they are not really practical at all,” Labossiere said. “It’s just pray, pray, pray and some verses of Scripture and you’re good to go. But in this book, both sides are merged with a spiritual foundation and more practicality.”

“Fix your perception first.”

When Labossiere makes his points on social media, people listen and pay close attention to his online posts. His followers are either sharing, retweeting and/or liking quotes from one of his three relationship books. However, Labossiere is now eagerly looking forward to publishing a full-length version of a fourth book, 7 Things You Should Know for the Man God Has for You, which is currently available in short form as an e-book.

“This book is going to hit harder because God Where is My Boaz? was more of a foundational piece,” he said with passion. “7 Things You Should Know for the Man God Has for You will help break some things down as far as a lot of women getting caught up in the wrong situation and confusing things, such as ‘Is this guy from God?’ The first chapter, which I’m very passionate about, examines how people say there isn’t enough men in the world for every woman. I despise when any Christian or spiritual person says that, because you’re going to tell people God can give them whatever they want, but when it comes to relationships, he’s limited there? I wanted to address it once and for all. If you don’t believe it can happen, then it’s not going to happen. There are other subjects I touch on, but I feel really good about this book.”

Don’t expect Labossiere to sugarcoat the truth to make it easy for you to digest. He truly believes “it’s important for us to embrace taking action and knowing our part in producing the things we want in our lives.” But what is the identifying substance that sets his books aside from the countless other life-affirming, do this to fix that, ’cause I’m an expert cornucopia of relationship encyclopedias?

“I’m going to tell you what you need to do, but I’m telling you with love and a genuine desire for you to win. I think once you understand if your energy is in the right place and you’re talking to someone correctly and present yourself in a proper manner, then they’re going to be more receptive to it.”

When asked about a favorite quote, Labossiere reflected on a Milton Berle meme he recently read: If opportunity doesn’t knock, create a door.

“I think too many people, especially Christians, are sitting back waiting for stuff to come to them and not understanding you’re supposed to go to it but with God’s guidance,” Labossiere said. “I’m not a biblical scholar, but the few times I’ve read the Bible, any story about someone getting great things, there was a process and things that person had to do. It wasn’t like he told Moses, ‘Just chill right here, I’m going to bring the promised land to you.’ No, you have to walk through all this and deal with xyz — and this is how you get there.”

What the Ibtihaj Muhammad doll means for African-American Muslim women ‘A black Muslim woman can be both authentically American and authentically Muslim’

Barbie has long been a name synonymous with the ideal standard of beauty for many girls growing up in the U.S. Introduced nearly 60 years ago, the doll has been problematic for exactly that same reason for almost as long: facing criticism of being hypersexual, promoting unrealistic body expectations and sorely lacking in diversity.

Perhaps that’s why the announcement Monday from U.S. Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad that manufacturer Mattel was releasing its first hijab-wearing, African-American, Muslim Barbie doll in her own image filled me with equal parts pride and wonder.

Bronze medalist Muhammad, the first Muslim woman to win an Olympic medal for the United States, unboxed the doll at the Glamour Women of the Year Summit in New York. Clad in a crisp white fencing uniform complete with saber, helmet and white headscarf, the doll is part of Barbie’s Shero collection, which recognizes women “who break boundaries to inspire the next generation of girls,” according to Mattel.

I remember well one of the last Barbie dolls I coveted. Dressed in a canary yellow tee, fuchsia jeans and aqua blue hiking boots, Camp Barbie represented the epitome of cool to my 10-year-old self in 1993. Sporty and chic, her yellow sunglasses complemented her purple backpack-turned-sleeping bag adorned with glow-in-the-dark stars.

Her name was Midge, and she was introduced by Mattel as Barbie’s best friend. Best of all, her strawberry blonde hair changed colors in the sun, or so the box promised.

But in my household, that of a preteen African-American Muslim girl growing up on the South Side of Chicago, the odds that I would be able to bring her home were slim. The hitch: My mother was adamant about raising her three daughters with a healthy sense of self that included images and toys with hair and skin that resembled ours.

I considered myself a Barbie aficionado, collecting all the black versions of the doll I could get my hands on: from Totally Hair Barbie, whose long, textured strands reached all the way to her heels, to Babysitting Skipper, whose bouncy black curls rivaled those of the three baby dolls she accompanied.

But black Barbie dolls were hard to find — practically nonexistent in neighborhoods outside of majority-black areas, or relegated to a dusty corner even in the stores that did sell them. Still, those dolls often were not the newest and coolest and, crucially for my 10-year-old self, not available with skin that looked like mine.

I may not have appreciated at the time my mother’s push to ensure my dolls looked like me. As an adult, I now get it. It represented one of the few avenues in which she had the power to curate the images her children were seeing and the faces that would help color our imagination.

Even if the commercials of my childhood never explicitly negated my worth, they paraded women with silky brunette, blonde or strawberry blonde hair in their shampoo, makeup and clothing ads. Even if the magazines geared toward my younger self claimed to be for all girls, they rarely featured any who looked like me.

Perhaps that’s why the symbolism of Muhammad’s announcement was not lost on my peers and I who noted, with awe, that the first Muslim, hijab-wearing Barbie is also black.

Her announcement comes at a time in which the erasure of African-American Muslims seems particularly pronounced. A time in which a major black women’s lifestyle magazine released a list of “100 Woke Women” and yet couldn’t seem to find one woke African-American Muslim woman to include among them.

This erasure reinforces the idea that Muslim equals Arab, South Asian, immigrant, anyone other than an athletic, Olympic medal-winning black woman from New Jersey — one with a modest clothing line, hundreds of thousands of social media followers and now a Barbie in her likeness.

The introduction of this doll lends support to the reality that a black Muslim woman can be both authentically American and authentically Muslim. A notion driven home by statistics that estimate a significant percentage of the enslaved Africans brought to this country were Muslim.

In a week when one of the most widely shared articles about hijab on my social media feed involved a Tennessee teacher posting Snapchat video of her young student’s headscarf being pulled off, along with captions “pretty hair” and “lol all that hair cover up,” Barbie’s latest edition goes a long way toward reinforcing the notion that beauty can be defined in myriad ways, including with hijab.

Malika Bilal with her 8-year-old niece, Hana.

Courtesy of Malika Bilal

Most of all, Muhammad’s announcement matters because representation matters. It matters to the many girls and young women who’ve messaged me over the five years I’ve co-hosted a daily talk show, as my channel’s first — and only — woman in hijab to do so. Their messages are full of encouragement and a sense of wonderment at being shown that a career path like mine is possible.

And it matters to those around the world who witnessed two black Muslim women in hijab on their television screens as I interviewed Muhammad before an audience of millions of households, days after the New Jersey fencer learned she had qualified for the U.S. Olympic team in 2016. Among those watching, there could very well have been a young girl who will now aspire to enter sports, and fencing in particular, because Muhammad placed that dream on her radar. Because beyond the image of a gorgeous hijab-wearing doll, Muhammad’s Barbie is athletic and unapologetically so.

It’s not just young girls who are representation-starved. Grown women like myself, and the many who’ve retweeted, reposted and reblogged the Barbie announcement, are just as excited, not just for the next generation of girls but also for ourselves.

Recently on a visit home to Chicago, my 8-year-old niece insisted upon showing me her new Barbie dolls. In her possession were members of the Fashionista line, featuring Barbie and Ken dolls in various shades of brown and black, and a range of body types — some slim, others thick. A Barbie with an Afro, a Ken with cornrows. Although I’m firmly in my 30s and have long since put away my toys, I couldn’t help but be a little wistful that options like hers did not exist when I was her age.

So when the Ibtihaj Muhammad Shero Barbie goes on sale in 2018, I’ll be ordering one to add to my niece’s collection. But I’m not ashamed to admit that another one just might find a home in my house as well.

The message to NFL players: Dance for us, but don’t kneel Demonizing black protest while allowing black celebration has a deep historical context

This NFL season, the usual game-day messaging of beer and sneaker ads and uplifting videos about community or military service has been augmented by a special kind of cultural telegraph.

Sent from white NFL owners and fans to black NFL players, it goes like this:

You can Milly Rock, Juju on that Beat or fake play pingpong in the end zone. (STOP) But we can’t abide you kneeling on the sidelines. (STOP) Dance to your heart’s content, but you best not raise a fist in protest. (STOP)

It’s a historically layered message about what’s allowable, laudable or even tolerable for black men to do with their bodies. It’s an adjudication centered in the white gaze, projected onto black limbs, televised to millions of eyes. Politicians, business leaders and NFL leadership have reached peak freak-out about players tackling racism and police brutality during the national anthem. But even as a divided populace watches football on a hair trigger, the league has newly relaxed its rules about touchdown celebrations.

Every pressurized system needs a release. Cue Mr. Bojangles.

Or can talented players simply be allowed to celebrate athletic achievement and the joy of expression, like any free people, without the echoes of white supremacy? I’m asking for the culture.


White fear of the black male body is part of the subtext of the rage over the NFL protests (and actually any form of black protest). That fear, stemming from perceptions of black lawlessness and criminality, can also be understood as a projection of white rage.

The angst and anger over the protests during the national anthem, which began last year with then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, recently ticked up dramatically. President Donald Trump cursed NFL players who protested and called for them to be fired. Houston Texans owner Robert McNair said, “We can’t have inmates running the prison” during a meeting of NFL owners and league executives. TV viewership was down 7.5 percent through the season’s first six weeks compared with the same period last year, and every week brings tension, threats of boycotts and boos directed at players and teams who do anything other than stand and salute.

But end zone dances and celebrations have ticked up dramatically too. Highlights of the most creative are ranked weekly on websites and social media. “We know that you love the spontaneous displays of emotion that come after a spectacular touchdown. And players have told us they want more freedom to be able to express themselves and celebrate their athletic achievements,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wrote in an open letter to fans earlier this year.

That position is new.

Last year, Newsweek reported that players had been fined 18 times for excessive celebrations through 14 weeks, more than 2.5 times the fines issued for all of 2015 and part of a leaguewide crackdown. This included Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, whose professional-grade twerking in the Washington end zone, along with other pelvis-intensive dances, cost him nearly $60,000. Oakland Raiders punter Marquette King danced with an official’s penalty flag after the opposing team was called for roughing the kicker, costing him more than $12,000. And when then-New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz danced a salsa and teammate Odell Beckham Jr. pretended to take pictures, that choreography cost them more than $12,000 each.

In an explanatory video last year, Dean Blandino, then senior vice president of officiating for the NFL, said there were long-standing rules against excessive demonstrations (which earned it the “No Fun League” nickname) but penalties were up because “it’s been a point of emphasis.” Hugs and salutes were fine, he said, as were limited dancing and going to the ground in prayer (presumably unless it involved praying for police to stop shooting black people).

In the offseason, however, the league changed course to allow group choreography, props and rolling on the ground. This year has witnessed the Peter Piper dance and an homage to Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robot on Monday Night Football. There’s been faux bench-pressing and fake home run hitting.

“We’re allowed to celebrate now,” Brown enthused in a preseason tweet. Along with other players, Brown (who last year finished in the top five on Dancing with the Stars) previewed possible dance moves on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon at the beginning of the season. He helped tout the new dance rules in a Pepsi commercial.

Both freedom of expression in black protest, which has been demonized, and freedom of expression in black dance — which, this year at least, is more OK — have complex and often contradictory messaging. But it all relates to questions of power and control of the black-body politic.

“We’re allowed to celebrate now.” — Antonio Brown

Former NFL Pro Bowler Keyshawn Johnson has experienced those attempts at control firsthand. In 1996, Johnson was a New York Jets rookie wide receiver when he scored his first NFL touchdown. He ripped off his helmet, spiked the football and started dancing. Teammates joined in celebration and tackled him to the ground. Former quarterback Joe Theismann, then an ESPN analyst, called him a jerk.

Though Johnson never went in for celebration dances after that — he threw balls in the stands until the fines got prohibitive, then just handed the ball to kids in the front row — it wasn’t because of Theismann’s criticism.

“I looked at it as this is a white dude that don’t like a black man doing something totally different than what the narrative is supposed to be, which is you’re supposed to play football and be quiet and be happy,” he said.

A segment of fans will always think celebrations are wrong, Johnson said. “They just think that showboating is basically like clowning.” It takes their mind to “if you celebrate, you’re disrespectful, because they want to control what you do. Part of controlling what you do is, ‘We prefer him to do this versus that.’ ”

When white players perform celebration rituals, they are understood differently, said Johnson. The quarterback position “is dominated by mainly white dudes with the pumping of the fist and the screaming out loud and guys shouting to the air when they throw a touchdown,” Johnson said. Fans and analysts say, “Oh, look at Tom Brady … he’s exuberant. He’s passionate about that throw to [Rob] Gronkowski. You’re like, ‘Wait a minute, he’s celebrating.

The nature of the guys who often take the ball into the end zone contributes to the creativity of the dances, Johnson points out. Wide receivers have to be fast, and speed is its own form of beauty. Receivers are “isolated. They’re the furthest position on offense, detached from their teammates,” said Johnson. They touch the ball less often than running backs and quarterbacks, so when they do get their hands on it, they want to make it count. Plus, “we happen to be, you know, sports car guys. We ain’t no big old truck dude. We ain’t no lineman. You look in the car lot, they’re going to have Bentleys, Ferraris, they’re going to have all that.”

Johnson likes dances being choreographed and creative but with limits on sexual suggestiveness, or implied violence such as throat-slashing. He believes that dances are allowed while protests are contested because of money. “When it starts to affect the bottom line, they’re like, ‘Oh, no, man. We’ve got to put a stop to this.’ ” He believes in criminal justice reform. “But I also understand Jerry Jones [Dallas Cowboys owner, who threatened to bench players last month who he said “disrespect the flag”] because I, too, am a business owner, so I understand when you start messing with my money. … ”


Dwandalyn Reece, curator of music and performing arts at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, sees the players’ dance moves — the boasting, mimicry and pantomime, the circle formation, the use of props — as definitive hallmarks of the African-American dance aesthetic.

Dancing and singing were one of the few areas where the dominant white culture allowed the enslaved freedom of expression. Then, of course, blacks got stereotyped as always dancing and singing, said Reece. This contributes to the multiple gazes operating on the field when it comes to football dances.

In one political moment, it’s showboating, overly stylized, expressing individualism at the expense of sportsmanship. (And, as a popular Key and Peele skit suggests, no touchdown dance is complete without at least three pelvic thrusts.)

In another political moment, dance is safe and entertaining — something white folks have historically enjoyed watching happy blacks do. In turn, that sight line evokes minstrel show dancing and “cooning” for white audiences.

The dances “can be spectacle, depending on the arena that it’s in, but the roots of it are quite meaningful and quite rooted in a cultural tradition,” said Robert Battle, artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Battle, who says he doesn’t do the latest dances, “the Dougie, or whatever,” sees football players expressing grace, athleticism and even their inner child as they move their bodies to punctuate their joy. But black dance has always been a contested cultural signifier. NFL dances are about rejecting old strictures and reclaiming personal expression. It’s the idea “that you dance in spite of how you’re being perceived because you know the inherent joy in that.” Or, Just because it’s a stereotype, I’m not going to stop eating fried chicken at the company picnic.

The dances are meant to push buttons, Battle said. It’s meant for “the naysayers or the ones that would be threatened. It’s meant to say, well, you should be threatened because I’m that damned good!”

Black social dancing has always been an extension of dances that came to the Americas with the enslaved, said Kyle Abraham, artistic director of the Abraham.In.Motion dance company and a MacArthur Fellow. “The ways the pelvis is used in the dancing, the way it’s much more grounded, can evoke fear to some but can deliver power to others.”

As for black dance being loaded with shade, Abraham references the cake walk. It was an elaborate, high-stepping prance that began before the Civil War and mocked the high society pretensions of whites and slaveholders, subversively, on the low, to their faces, as they clapped along.

“It’s meant to say, well, you should be threatened, because I’m that damned good!”

“There is always a possibility that there is a game being played within a game and that we are actually in control,” said Abraham. “Look at me, I’m entertaining you. Are you entertained? Am I what you want me to be, while at the same time I’m making you notice.”

The handcuffs are off and players are going to want to step up their moves, especially in an age where they can go viral. “Maybe part of this illusion in this modern-day cake walk is that you actually think you have ownership over who I am and how I will be presented … but in actuality, I have full ownership of who I am and how I choose to speak and move and dance. And when I will make those extra 10 yards!” Abraham said.

Damion Thomas, curator of sports for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, remembers watching the Houston Oilers’ Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, an NFL dancing pioneer who became legendary for his flapping-leg touchdown celebration in the late 1970s and 1980s. Thomas calls Hall of Fame cornerback Deion “Primetime” Sanders, who in the 1990s helped usher in the modern celebrity football player era, his all-time favorite player and dancer and points out that his signature, flashy stiff-arm and high steps mimic movements from Detroit ballroom dancing.

He notes that white players, such as the Jets’ Mark Gastineau and his sack dance, historically have been part of the creative NFL culture. Today, white players have been involved in some fan favorites, including a game of duck, duck goose. Travis Kelce, tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs, is a serial end zone dancer and originator of Week 9’s potato sack race, one of the season’s best group celebrations.

Although both dancing and protest have gotten attention this year, Thomas contends they occupy separate spaces. Players let you know when they are protesting, he said, and they reserve political acts for certain moments in a prescribed space while keeping the end zone as a “part of the field they are not engaging with social issues.” The exception: “When Odell Beckham Jr. scored a touchdown, went on all fours and raised his leg like he was a dog — and then later said that was in relationship to Donald Trump.”

Reece, the music and performing arts curator, sees multiple narratives “being enacted as we struggle with trying to get beyond the lens of the way that people look at us, and interpret us and define us.”

These will continue to play out as fans struggle, as football players struggle, as the nation struggles with this political moment and the long, complicated history of the black body politic.

Tonya Boyd, New York Fire Department’s first black female deputy chief, discusses how she discovered her true passion ‘I wanted my work to show that I can work just as hard, if not harder than any man out there’

When Tonya Boyd took her first emergency medical technician (EMT) class in the mid-’90s, she had no idea that two decades later she’d be the first African-American female deputy chief of the New York Fire Department. At the time, Boyd was enrolled at Long Island University as a nursing student and decided to take a break from the program to tend to a family matter. Shortly afterward, Boyd says, she decided to take the EMT class as a favor to a friend.

“She asked me to take it with her so I could help drill her for the test, but I ended up really enjoying it,” Boyd said.

After the course, Boyd got a job with a private ambulance service. She applied for a position with the New York Fire Department in 1996 with the idea that it would be a brief pit stop before going back to nursing school.

“I intended to come to the department, work there for a year, then go back,” Boyd said. “My grandmother was a nurse, and I wanted to follow in her footsteps. But after getting into the work and bonding with the people in the Fire Department, I fell in love with it. And here I am, 21 years later.”

But getting “here” wasn’t easy. Boyd was an EMT for seven years, then was encouraged to go through the paramedic program. After having that role for a while, Boyd successfully took the test to become lieutenant, a position she would hold for four years before being appointed to captain. She was only the second female captain on the Emergency Medical Services side of the department. Now, as deputy chief of the Fire Department of the City of New York, Boyd is assigned to Queens, where her primary responsibility is to respond to mass casualty incidents in that borough and oversee two EMS stations that consist of about 160 members.

Boyd’s promotion has been a source of inspiration for women all over the country, and it’s a distinction that she doesn’t take lightly.

“I really believe this promotion means a lot to the minority women in this department for one, who believed that the highest they could go was lieutenant,” Boyd said. “An overwhelming amount of women in various fields, not just in fire, have reached out to me and told me how much this has inspired them and encouraged them to reach higher. For me, that has been the biggest reward, getting the feedback from other women and knowing I’ve inspired them.”

It’s no secret that fire departments all over the country are male-dominated. When asked whether she felt it was challenging being so outnumbered by men in the department, Boyd pointed out that there are challenges on every job.

“There’s no question that us women are outnumbered, probably about 70/30, but you can’t look at it that way,” Boyd said. “It’s about doing a good job and being credible and reliable. I wanted my work to show that I can work just as hard, if not harder than any man out there.

“My mother would tell me not to focus on the negative, and to never let someone else’s negative become mine. I choose to focus on the positive, and that’s what has helped me. If you take everything personally, you’ll get caught up in the moment, and I didn’t want to get caught in the moment. I wanted to always move forward.”

Boyd attributes a great deal of her success to the men and women who served as mentors to her. One in particular was her dear friend Carene Brown, a former instructor in the department who is now deceased. Boyd says Brown, who died seven years ago, encouraged her to keep going further, taking more courses and learning more.

Working in emergency response for many years in New York, Boyd has seen some hard days, but none as hard as 9/11.

“It was the worst day of my life,” she recalled. “I worked the evening shift that day, and I remember so many in my department were missing. Imagine the people that you work with every day, that have become your family, the people you discuss the most personal things with. These people are now unaccounted for. It’s a tearing feeling in your chest, not knowing where they are.

“I lost a dear friend of mine that day, Ricardo [Quinn]. And a few months after that, my EMT partner committed suicide. We all believe it was delayed impact from that day. For most years, on 9/11, I stay home and make it a quiet and disconnected day. I don’t get on social media and I don’t watch television. It’ll always be such a somber day.”

Boyd says the best piece of advice she’s received, and the advice she’d pass on to any woman out there with big goals, came from her mother. “My mother always told me to hold my head high. When it came to this job, she always reminded me how intelligent I am, and how I’m just as good as anyone else. She’d tell me to ‘show them your heart’ and ‘do good in your actions.’ I would give the same advice to anyone else.”

One thing that is certain about Boyd — the medical field is her passion. When asked what she’d be doing if she wasn’t working in this capacity, she responded, “I’ve always loved animals, so I could definitely see myself working as a veterinarian.”

Boyd is buckling up for the new road ahead and planning to serve the citizens of Queens well as deputy chief, all while planning her September 2018 wedding with her fiancé, Edwin Laing.

Black mask Kyrie Irving vs. clear mask Kyrie Irving — who wins? A breakdown of the All-Star point guard’s debut masked games — as a Cav, and as a Celtic

The “Masked Man” is back, but is he better?

After missing one game with a facial fracture that he suffered in the first quarter of the Boston Celtics’ 90-87 win over the Charlotte Hornets on Nov. 11, All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving returned to the hardwood on Tuesday night against the Brooklyn Nets with shiny plastic strapped to his visage.

“I hate wearing it, but somehow it’s caused a craze on Instagram as well as social media,” Irving said before the game of the protective mask that countless NBA players from Wilt Chamberlain to Kobe Bryant, Richard “Rip” Hamilton and LeBron James have been required to wear after suffering an injury to their faces. “I understand that it’s just for my safety, so I throw on the mask for a few weeks and go about my business.”

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Tuesday didn’t mark the first time that Irving has had to take precautionary measures to protect his face. On Dec. 14, 2012, back in the pre-James teammate days of his tenure with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Irving broke a bone in his jaw in a game against the Milwaukee Bucks. A day later, the then-20-year-old donned a mask while facing the New York Knicks on the road.

So, how did Irving’s first game wearing a mask with the Celtics compare with his first one with the Cavs? Let’s break it down.

Dec. 15, 2012 — Cavs vs. Knicks, Madison SQuare Garden

Mask color: Black

Stat line: 41 points, 15-for-25 shooting (5-for-8 from 3-point), 5 assists and 5 rebounds.

Result: New York Knicks 103, Cleveland Cavaliers 102

Irving, aka Zorro, aka the Phantom of the Garden, went nuts for a then-career-high 41 points while saucing up Knicks guards Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd (then 39 years old) and Pablo Prigioni in 39 minutes on the floor. But remember, this was a Cleveland squad about a year and a half removed from James’ decision to come home. So even on Irving’s monster night, as Carmelo Anthony sat on New York’s bench with a sprained ankle, the struggling Cavs lost. In 19 games wearing a mask (both black and clear) during the 2012-13 season, Irving averaged 24.5 points while shooting 47.5 percent from the field and 39.8 percent from beyond the arc.

Nov. 14 — Celtics vs. nets, barclays center

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Mask color: Clear

Stat line: 25 points, 8-for-20 shooting (2-for-5 from 3-point), 5 assists and 3 rebounds.

Result: Boston Celtics 109, Brooklyn Nets 102

Before Irving got fitted for his mask heading into Tuesday night’s game against the Nets at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, his infant daughter, Azurie, accidentally hit him in the face in the spot where he suffered the fracture after teammate Aron Baynes inadvertently elbowed him while going for a block on Hornets guard Kemba Walker. “I did my absolute best not to cry in front of her. I was like, ‘Oh, my goodness, baby,’ ” Irving said of the moment with his daughter. “She hit me right on that spot.” Irving fought through the pain for a game-high 25 points. It wasn’t the career night that he pieced together while masked four years ago, but Irving led the Celtics to their 13th consecutive win.

As for when he’ll be able to bump that Future and take his “Mask Off?” — who knows? Until then, let’s revel in the fact that there’s just something about Kyrie Irving, in New York, rocking a mask.

SportsCenter’s ‘Gear Up,’ Week 11: Teams honor armed forces for Veterans Day South Florida lets its ‘SoFlo,‘ and Colorado State shows off ‘State Pride‘

In Week 11 of Gear Up, SportsCenter’s weekly segment previewing the best uniforms in college football, The Undefeated’s Aaron Dodson breaks down the style combinations of Army, Navy, Air Force, the United States Merchant Marine Academy, Arkansas State, South Alabama, Missouri, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Marshall, South Florida and Colorado State.

Four of the five United States service academies — Army, Navy, Air Force and the Merchant Marines — pay tribute via Veterans Day uniform combinations. In a matchup between Arkansas State and South Alabama, the two teams partner to honor all five military branches with decals on their helmets. Missouri unveils a special American flag-themed helmet, while Mississippi State breaks out a Veterans Day alternate for the second consecutive season. Vanderbilt players will wear the names of fallen soldiers on the backs of their jerseys, and on the stripe across Marshall’s helmets are the names of all 75 people who lost their lives in the team’s tragic 1970 plane crash. The South Florida Bulls crank up the color with their “SoFlo” uniform. And, yes, we show off Colorado State’s social media favorite “State Pride” look.

Daily Dose: 11/9/17 O.J. Simpson gets kicked out of a Vegas hotel

Thursday was another TV day, so if you get a chance to check out Around The Horn, please do so. I pulled a bit of a prank, so let me know how that goes over.

School shootings are a massive problem in the country. They’re basically everyday occurrences on balance, which overall should scare you very much. Instead of trying to get lawmakers to, you know, help prevent people from getting the types of guns that can kill in mass quantities, we take a different route. Like down in Miami, where a school is offering up “bulletproof panels” for sale to kids to put in their backpacks, in case of a shooting. This is what it’s come to.

KFC thinks they slick. On Twitter, it follows exactly 11 people. If you’re not familiar with its “secret recipe” that includes 11 herbs and spices, where have you been? This is not a reflection on their chicken, which is a whole separate discussion. But, one guy figured out its little social media strategy and it’s actually kind of brilliant. As it turns out, they follow five Spice Girls and six guys named Herb. So, once homeboy cracked the code fast food company hooked him up with a serious gift.

O.J. Simpson is out here wilding. The man who is widely believed to have gotten away with a double murder, then served all sorts of time in prison for an unrelated crime, is now out. And not only is he out, he’s partying with ladies, just like he was before he went to prison. Thursday he got kicked out of a hotel for being drunk in public, which is just an incredibly bad look. I have no idea what the limitations of his parole are, and whether this will send him back to prison. But dude might want to slow down, if he can.

It appears that Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott won’t be playing this week. His on-again-off-again relationship with the NFL has now turned into a matter of public ridicule on multiple levels. Another court has decided that he can’t play and his six-game suspension will now be served. Who knows if it will be off again by Tuesday? This case, by the way, has completely sent Cowboys owner Jerry Jones into the next stratosphere with anger. He’s trying to sue the NFL over commissioner Roger Goodell, which we all know is about Zeke.

Free Food

Coffee Break: If you don’t know who Masai Uriji is, you should. He runs the Toronto Raptors and he was born in Nigeria, and is largely responsible for the resurgence of that franchise in the NBA. He also happens to be very much a part of trying to grow the game in Africa.

Snack Time: Planes get grounded for a lot of different reasons. But if you’re the dude who gets caught by his wife cheating to the point that they gotta land the plane? My guy, that’s not good.

Dessert: I can’t stop looking at these shoes.

Daily Dose: 11/7/17 Meek Mill is headed to state prison

What’s up, squad? Hope your Election Day is treating you well. It’s another TV day for me, so please do tune in to Around The Horn at 5 p.m. Tuesday afternoon on ESPN.

So, Meek Mill is going to prison. Why? Because in a nation in which we throw people in prison for what feels like every conceivable reason, a guy violated probation and the judge felt she had no choice. Mind you, there are side theories floating around that because he didn’t do a song with Boyz II Men and shout-out the judge, she decided to put him behind bars. In all seriousness, though, this is a sad day for a guy trying to turn things around. Then again, posting silly violations on social media is never smart.

Harvey Weinstein’s fall from grace has had an incredible effect on Hollywood. A staggering number of other ancillary accusations have come out regarding sexual harassment, assault and coercion in the movie business. The concept of the “open secret” is one it appears we’re finally tackling. Yet, there are still details that make your skin crawl when you hear exactly how these smear and fear campaigns worked to protect powerful men. This story about the lengths people go to is really terrifying.

It’s an Election Day in America. Which means if you are in one of a couple of states that are having rather important races nationally, you’ll want to get out and perform your civic duty. For some people, it’s an afterthought they only participate in when they think they can make a difference. But in Virginia, where felons had their right to vote reinstated, it’s a privilege at this point. And for one man doing it for the first time, it was an incredible feeling.

Josh Gordon was a heck of a football player. He also is an addict. As a player for the Cleveland Browns, he was routinely mocked for having violated the NFL’s substance abuse policy on multiple occasions. But the reality is that Gordon wasn’t just a dude who loved partying, he was a guy with a real problem. A get-high-and-drink-before-NFL-games type of problem. I don’t doubt that many players over the years have done this, but to hear it discussed so explicitly is still fascinating.

Free Food

Coffee Break: We all know who Richard Spencer is at this point. If you don’t, he’s the Nazi dude who pops up from time to time trying to make points about white supremacy and other nonsense that sometimes gets him punched in the face. Well, a black man took the time to interview Spencer, and it got real.

Snack Time: 5Pointz is a place that means a lot to me. So when they buffed and whitewashed the whole thing sometime back over a land dispute, it was heartbreaking. It went to court, and now some decisions are being made.

Dessert: If you want to hear me do an interview with a college kid, here you go.